Bridges, Birds, and Brass Rocking Dogs

It’s hard to think that only two days ago, I was sitting on a bench in Charleson Park (my favourite Vancouver park) reading a book and watching dog walkers, cyclists, and preschool kids enjoying the sunshine, and today, I am watching thick flakes of snow from my apartment windows falling down and sticking to the ground.

View from my reading bench

I’d rather relive my Friday than show snowy shots of a season that I am all too happy to leave behind. So here are some snapshots of my Friday afternoon, walking from the Olympic Village SkyTrain station to Granville Island along the south shore of False Creek.

False Creek harbour

View of downtown from False Creek South

I first found out about Charleson Park when I went on an architectural tour of Vancouver with UBC geography professor David Ley as part of Regent College Summer Programs a few years ago. I remember climbing up a little trail that led to an unusual-looking pedestrian bridge that crosses a railway and roadway below. I was so intrigued with the discovery that I went looking to find it again, and ta-da:

The earth is pushing up through the middle of this landscaped bridge, creating fissures in the cement. I think it looks rather beautiful—a little oasis of urban planning enveloped by nature’s presence. The bridge extends all the way to 7th Avenue and Laurel Street. On my next trip here, I will have to walk all the way across and see what it looks like from the other side.

Standing on the pedestrian bridge, overlooking the railway

City peeking through the trees

I then made my way back down to Island Park Walk which I followed until I got to Granville Island.

I stumbled upon a new public art piece called Brass Rocking Dog, part of “The Art of Recycling” initiative by Revision@Creekhouse. This piece continues to play into the “Garbage to Gold” theme that is such a part of Granville Island’s history—turning an industrial junkyard into a site of high art and cultural capital.

Rocking Dog by Ron Simmer

The plaque reads:

Ron Simmer is a sculptor working with found and recycled materials. As well as recycled objects, he sometimes incorporates organic matter—stone and wood—to express concerns about the fragility of our environment.

The simulated balloon dog is made of precision TIG welded used brass water tanks resembling a giant “rocking dog” toy. The tanks were originally cleaned by glass bead blasting and have now acquired a natural patina.

Another shot of the brass rocking dog

It’s funny to think that 10 brass water tanks can be arranged to look like something quite other than what it actually is. A few gestural lines and a pair of enlarged rocking chair sliders immediately suggested “child’s rocking horse—but dog” to me, or one of those balloon animals children receive at birthday parties and fairs. It looks as weightless as a balloon too, which is the other creative illusion of the installation. We see something familiar out of something unfamiliar, something possible out of something seemingly impossible. If it looked a little more comfortable, doesn’t it make you want to climb up on it and go for a ride?

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The Granville Island Public Market food court

To finish the day, I grabbed a Bratwurst sausage from the Granville Island Public Market and ate it from a second floor table while I did some writing and, of course, people watching. How could you not with a window this big and such bizarre sights like a dozen pigeons perching on the arm of a man who doesn’t seem to mind in the least? It brought back memories of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds that I, for whatever reason, watched as a kid and has horrifyingly stuck with me since. On that foreboding note, I’ll end with the truism that you never know what weird and wonderful things you’ll see when you walk out your front door and venture into the world beyond.

A prime people-watching spot with Granville St. Bridge in the background

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Wheeling around Art

You know how I talked here about encountering art in places other than museums and art galleries?

The other day, my sister and I had a chance to do this by going on the Art Wheelers bike tour in Vancouver. It was a 2 ½ hour ride stopping at about 15 works of art, beginning in Coal Harbour, passing through Stanley Park, going along English Bay and False Creek, and then ending up in the Olympic Village.

I won’t list all 15 but I’ll share with you some of my favourite pieces.

1. Lightshed. Liz Magor

Location plays a big part in this piece. This ‘wooden’ shed sitting on log pilings in Coal Harbour recalls the area’s maritime history since freight sheds once sat here on wharves. I say ‘wooden’ in quotation marks because although that’s what the material looks like, if you go up to touch it, you’ll find it’s actually made of aluminum – including the barnacles crawling up the posts. According to this article, the artist likes to challenge our assumption of the familiar, not just through an unexpected material but also through the precarious angle of the shed, as if it’s about to collapse. I would love to see this piece at night because apparently a silver light shines from inside it, lighting up the windows. It gives the illusion of habitation even though the out-of-reach doorway means whoever or whatever’s inside remains inaccessible to us.

2. Engagement. Dennis Oppenheim

It’s hard not to notice these gigantic engagement rings standing about 30 feet high in Sunset Beach Park. American sculptor Dennis Oppenheim made them, who also designed this interesting bus station in California. Oppenheim likes to leave his works open to interpretation, and many have interpreted this piece as a political message about same-sex marriage given that both rings are ladies’ rings and they’re situated in the West End, Vancouver’s gay community. The angle of the rings tilting away from each other also speaks to the precarious balance in marriage, but also in any relationship. This piece would be another great one to see illuminated at night, where the ‘diamond’ part of the rings shine.

3. Khenko. Doug Taylor

This kinetic sculpture hanging over the False Creek pathway gets its name from the Coast Salish mythical term for Great Blue Heron. Addressing sustainability, this piece celebrates the return of this bird to the False Creek waterway, which was a main industrial site in the city’s early history. Notice the combination of man-made, heavy mechanical elements and the grace and lightness of the bird that actually flies through this wind-powered device.

4. King and Queen. Sorel Etrog

King and Queen highlights the relationship between man and machinery. King is on the left; Queen is on the right—a regal looking pair sitting in Harbour Green Park. Despite their rigid steel parts, Etrog makes these figures inviting through the curvature of their multiple laps (a favourite for children to climb on) and their humanized features like rivets for eyes. I like the play between the forms’ formality and casualness, just sitting in the park like all the other Vancouverites enjoying the sunny evening.

5. Time Top. Jerry Pethick

This 1940s-style spaceship standing along the False Creek shoreline evokes time travel, as if it just washed up from another world. We saw it at low tide, but depending on the time of day, its bulbous feet can be completely submerged, changing the way we interact with the piece. I’d imagine it could also look like a spinning top bobbing along in the water. This piece literally underwent some ‘time travel’ itself. It was submerged for two years in the ocean by Gibsons, BC, where it was also given a low-level electrical charge to attract sea life to its bronze surface. I love how the colours of Time Top echoed the colour of the water when we were viewing it, blending it with its ‘natural’ environment. Unfortunately the artist passed away before he saw the completed work.

there’s no room for me here anymore

In False Creek Change,” Vancouver indie group Said the Whale sing about the gentrification of the city, of saying goodbye to a place they once called home:

False Creek changed in ‘86

the year Expo exploited her shore

It’s been twenty-two years laying down bricks

and there’s no room for me here any more, any more

there’s no room for me here anymore

 

I made my mark in ‘84

Born to the month of June

My home at the heart of Charleson Park

I never thought I’d be leaving so soon, so soon

Never thought I’d be leaving so soon

False Creek condos. View from Granville Island.

False Creek with view of Science World built for Expo ’86

Those are some pictures of False Creek today. With all its seafoam glass condos and precious view corridors, you’d hardly think it was one of the city’s key industrial sites prior to the 1980s when it got cleaned up for Expo. People who could no longer afford to stay, left. There’s no room for me here anymore.

I was reminded of Said the Whale’s song when reading about how the City of Vancouver is pledging to help artists find stable, long-term studio space after a number of them had to vacate a heritage building on 901 Main Street. You can read the article in The Vancouver Sun.

To help provide more space for Vancouver’s 8200 artists, the City has proposed turning two empty, city-owned buildings along Industrial Avenue in False Creek Flats – 251 & 281, into art studios. Together, the buildings comprise over 26 000 square feet.

281 Industrial Avenue. Photo by Jim Carrico.

It’s tough to be an artist in a city where the rent is so expensive. Artists need affordable space to make their art. They need a room of one’s own, to borrow Virginia Woolf’s phrase.

If this proposal goes through, it will make room for a certain kind of people in False Creek again – artists whose creative endeavours are often suited to older, industrial warehouses with their open floor layouts, large windows and high ceilings. Maybe it will welcome back to a place (and home) artists who have new songs to record, pictures to paint, and stories to write about that won’t just be farewell, there’s no room for me here anymore.

Garbage to Gold

I was on Granville Island the other day and was able to snap some pics in the last stretch of sunny weather before another batch of rain sets in. What I love about Granville Island:

  • how colourful it is

  • its views of False Creek and the iconic glass condos that are a staple of Vancouver’s skyline

  • its juxtaposition of art and industry as seen on buildings’ exposed structural and mechanical elements, representing traces of this man-made island’s industrial past

Malaspina Printmakers

warehouse-turned-university

  • the public market. Even though walking through the narrow aisles feels as packed as the sardines they have for sale in the fresh seafood section, there are some yummy eats and unique artsy gems you can find when browsing through the hundreds of vendor stalls

  • there’s a store for literally everything under the sun, which you can get a sense of by reading these names: “Umbrella Shop,” “The Postcard Place,” “Rhinoceros,” “The Granville Island Soap Gallery” and “The Granville Island Broom Company.” Yes, there is actually a store that just sells brooms. No joke. I should have taken a picture of that one.

In the words of Paul Delany in Vancouver: Representing the Postmodern City,

The success of Granville Island has been based on its mixture of uses and its (post)modernisation of existing buildings. Post-industrial society can afford to feel nostalgic about factories: abandoned machines and structures are not experienced as mere junk, but rather as relics of an heroic age when goods were hammered out, with toil and skill, from recalcitrant materials.”

In other words, the success of Granville Island revolves around repackaging what was formerly an industrial “junk” or “garbage” site into an attractive and desirable site of high cultural and economic capital. To read about a future dystopian Granville Island that plays with the idea of art and commodity, check out William Gibson’s short story, “The Winter Market.”

Dockside Brewery – active remnants of an industrial past

Indeed, yesterday’s garbage is tomorrow’s gold. And how golden it is.